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Layering for Travel - Everything You Need to Know

Layering for Travel - Everything You Need to Know

Have you ever been told the key to packing light or packing for cold weather is layering? If you're like most people, "layering" might be a foreign concept to you. It's also pretty tricky to get right without some helpful tips or a lot of trial and error. 

What is Layering, Anyway?

Layering is part art and part science. Wearing layers successfully means blending being comfortable moving, being a comfortable temperature, and not looking like a crazy person. 

Layering for Warmth

The best time for layering is when you're traveling to an area with large temperature swings, or going on a trip with 2 different climates. Areas like deserts or areas close to the poles tend to swing dramatically. It might be 30 when you wake up, 75 in the middle of the day, and drop down to 40 after sunset while you're still out. And herein lies the problem: you can't dress for cold weather, you probably shouldn't dress for warm weather. So you must layer.

For women and men, layering usually means a shirt, long sleeve shirt and some sort of outer wear, like a comfy sweater, sweatshirt, or cardigan to round out the layers. You can throw on a vest too if you're feeling like your torso needs a bit extra warmth. All that sounds fairly straightforward, but what happens when you need to layer your lower half. This gets tricky because you don't usually see someone stripping off their outer layer of pants like you do with a sweater. 

Layering, despite its ability to help you stay comfortable in multi-temperature environment, will also keep you extra warm in super cold areas. Want to climb The Wall in Westeros, aka a glacier in Iceland? You can do that by looking for 2 things: merino wool base layers and fleece or flannel lined pants. You need merino base layers like the ones sold at REI or Kathmandu. I'm a big fan of Kathmandu. They're a New Zealand based company, so US customers will have to get it shipped, but it's sooooo worth it. Kathmandu makes clothing worthy of hiking Mt. Cook/Aoraki as well as Everest itself. 

You can also up the ante by wearing knee-high socks and doubling (or tripling) the socks you wear. Going somewhere extra chilly? Get yourself a pair of cold-weather shoes.

Layering for Packing Light 

Layering is also a supremely helpful skill when you want to pack light for your travels. We all start with great intentions, but most of us typically overpack for our trips. As you travel more and more, you may want to pack more efficiently and pack lighter than the trip before. Whether you are staying close to home or flying around the world, maximizing both space and weight allowances is becoming incredibly important. Taking intra-country flights in smaller areas, like New Zealand or Portugal, almost always results in getting your carry on weighed in addition to your checked bag. Most airlines cap your carry on (not your personal item) at 7kgs or about 15 pounds. No matter how you travel, packing light is a lifesaver. 

The biggest part of packing light in any bag is planning. Check out my Packing for an Extended Vacation video (it's just 2 minutes) for some helpful tips. (Shameless plug!) 

Now that you've watched the adorably dorky video, it's important to be mindful about what you pack.

While there are countless tips, tricks, and plans to help men and women pack light for trips, I'm here to tell you the dirty secret to packing ultra-light: 

Plan to do laundry.

There. I said it. It's not sexy, it's not glamorous, and it doesn't even let you use your organizing skills. It just is… laundry.

How to do laundry while traveling, you ask? It's quite easy. There are these really handy laundry sheets that are non-liquid and easily packable. You fill up your bathroom sink with water, pop in a sheet or two, soak, rinse, wring, and hang to dry. Easy peasy. The key to successful on-the-road laundry is packing quick-drying clothing. If you pack quick-drying base layers, shirts, you don’t typically have to wash the heavy things like jeans and sweaters. While washing clothes while traveling is a great way to pack light, you also should look at the actual gear you have. Sturdy suitcases are heavy, but durable, so you have to find a good one that balances durability, spaciousness, and weight. 

You can think of things in two ways:

  • Way #1: you pack ultra light and do a bit of laundry while traveling.
  • Way #2: You plan to avoid laundry at all costs (because, hey, you're on vacay).
  • Secret Option 3: Have your laundry sent out. This is the Five Star Traveler solution. Having laundry sent out while staying at a hotel is awesome and extremely convenient. It can also get costly depending on how much you have sent out and how often. However, if you want to splurge (hey, you are on vacay), having some clothes sent to be cleaned is the way to go. 


The trick to mastering the art and science of layering lies in knowing what you'll do, where you'll be, how light you're packing, and how much time you'll be spending in different climates. 

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